Tuesday, March 7, 2017
I don’t know if Ball State still has this, but back when I was a college student, we had something called, “Watermelon Bust Weekend.” Every college has their big party weekend and Watermelon Bust was ours. The origin of the tradition is lost in the haze of a decades-long ritual of inebriated frenzy, so I never knew what it meant other than a lot of drinking. Essentially, you gather a bunch of 18 to 21 year olds, get them drunk, then give them watermelons, and see what happens. They would lay out these giant pallets of watermelons and you were meant to do relay races with them. One of those races you carried the watermelon between your knees. Then there was the watermelon toss, so the watermelons would fall to the ground and bust open all over you. You would wrestle watermelons out of people’s hands and end up wrestling in the ground, which was muddy more often than not. Finally, there was a tug of war. It was such a big deal that kids from Indiana University and Purdue came up to Muncie to partake in Watermelon Bust. One year, I went with my friend Phil and his friend Jason, who came up from Indiana University. We pre-gamed and got completely filthy during the day’s events. My teammates and I entered the tug-of-war, thinking we were so strong that we could beat the field. Boy, did we learn the hard way right into a pile of mud. Yes, pound for pound we were strong but just having weight matters in an event like Tug-of-war and my 110 pound or less teammates didn't qualify. We were very overconfident, uh...until we weren't.
I lived in the honors dorms because I was attending Ball State on both an athletic and an academic scholarship. The academic scholarship was actually greater than my athletic scholarship and paid for all of my out-of-state tuition. That year, my roommate was one of those people that was never around. She was a nice enough girl, but she was gone every weekend to visit her boyfriend back home, who she was dead set on marrying. She was from John Cougar Mellencamp’s home town of Seymour, Indiana. I think her sister even dated John Mellencamp. Most weekends, my dorm was empty. I lived in the Nerd dorm. It was quiet and a good place to study but definitely not party central. It had been a chilly and drizzly fall day, so Phil, Jason, and I were covered in mud and watermelon. We went to my dorm with the intended purpose to shower and get cleaned up. We went to the women’s communal bathroom and got into the showers. It wasn’t salacious at all, we kept our dirty clothes on, but it seemed perfectly logical in our inebriated state to shower fully clothed in order to get clean. The moment the water spurted out of the shower head, the mud and watermelon bits flung all over the bathroom. We were giggling and trying to wash off when one of the girls on my floor walked in wearing her fluffy blue terrycloth bathrobe, carrying her shower bucket with a smile on her face and then she saw us. Her smile vanished, she gave us a dirty look, rolled her eyes and harrumphed away as if she were Princess Diana. She immediately walked out of there and reported us. Sure enough, my RA came in and yelled, "What do you think you are doing?" That was a fair question. There was mud everywhere! She was super mad but of course we thought it was hysterical. She yelled at me to get rid of Phil and Jason then clean up the bathroom. The guys left me there as I was trying to wipe up the mess soaking wet. One of my friends from the honors dorm was there and decided she would try to help me out. She got some mops and we mopped up the whole mess up as best we could.
Phil had this gigantic station wagon, like Clark Griswold-style, and it even had wood grain on the side. He used to say that he could fit 16 people and six kegs in it. It was so outdated it must have been from the 70’s. I used to ride on the hood of the car. I would do this completely sober, just something to do to get some fun going. I would grab onto the hood of some car and hold on. My sister and I used to do it all the time in Iowa because what else are you going to do there? We started out on the little compact cars that we had. We went to parking lots and tried to hold on while the other would try and spin you off. So I did that on Phil’s big station wagon, the Family Truckster, as he called it. If we were cruising around and there was nothing else to do, my friends would shout out, “Hey Patty! Go on and get on the front!” It didn’t take much to get me to do it. So we would drive down the main drag at Ball State, coming back from the library, and I’d climb on the hood of the Family Truckster just for the hell of it.
The gymnastics team mainly partied with the football players when we weren’t hopping fences to get into bars. Each sports team had their own house at Ball State, and we often went to the football house to party. They were fun, but they were always out of control. Without fail, a fight would break out at each party. On the last night of the school year my junior year, there was a particularly raucous party going on at the football house. A lot of people were already gone, but the rest of us were whooping it up. My friend Robin and I were planning on driving to Kentucky the following morning to see the Kentucky Derby and stay at her parent's house outside of Louisville for the night. I was so excited to get out town and go to the Derby that I didn’t even drink that night. It wasn’t like I spent the entire four years of college drunk. Since high school, I knew when I could go out and party and when I needed sleep and study. In theory, Ball State was supposed to be a dry campus, but no one stuck to that. My teammates and I would mostly party in the fall before gymnastics season started and once winter rolled around, we would straighten up. There was a pact between us that we would not drink from January through March. We went to the same number of partiers, but we just wouldn’t drink. However, we would make up for it the rest of the year.
So, it was the last night of school that year and I was standing on the porch of the football house and I wanted to go into the house and use the bathroom. The guys on the inside of the house had locked the door and Paul, the 6’ 4,” 250 pound football player was standing directly behind it. I started pounding on the door to get Paul to let me in. There was a small, decorative window that I stuck my face up to see who was inside. I saw Paul tapping on the glass, taunting me. Then, his fist came through the glass into my face, and with it, a million shards of glass. I felt the pieces near my eye and shut it in case glass had gotten in. In the middle of the night before the Kentucky Derby, my teammate and best friend Robin drove me down to Ball Memorial Hospital to get my eye checked out. Robin loved listening to music from the 1960s. Her speakers were blaring and I was splayed in the passenger seat with my hand over my eye trying to keep it closed, begging her to change the station, at least this once for my sake. If I was going to be blind in one at least she'd let me listen to the dance music I loved on the way to the hospital. I didn’t have glass in my eye, but I did have a black eye for a few weeks. We didn’t end up going to the Kentucky Derby.
After that, we curtailed it with those guys. They were just wild. They were drunk and many of them had problems with it. I remember I was taunting one of the players for his hair being long, messing around with them like I would my brother, and he warned me that if I kept at it, he was going to slam me against a wall. So of course, I kept making fun of him and sure enough, the next moment, I was against the wall with a finger in my face. I think he was getting ready to punch me when my friend John peeled him off of me. It probably wasn't the best move on my part taunting a drunken, giant football player. His move was still inexcusable.
A few months later, I saw John, the guy that rescued me, holding my tiny 5'2" 100 pound friend Wendy up against a fence and another guy had to pull him off of her the same way. Some of those guys were just violent and bad news. I had a few friends on the team, like our friends Zork and Mike, but it wasn’t worth the risk of hanging out with the rest of the team. We decided we needed a safer environment.